A comic book produced by a fundamentalist publisher named Jack Chick is causing an uproar among Roman Catholics. It purports to be the true story of a Jesuit priest named Alberto Rivera, who was raised and trained in a Spanish Jesuit seminary, and whose job was to infiltrate and destroy Protestant churches. The comic book, titled Alberto, says the reason Protestant churches don’t speak out against Catholism the way they should is that they are infiltrated by Jesuits.
The comic book has been so popular that Chick has published a sequel, Double Cross, which claims to be the true story of how the priest rescued his sister from a convent in England, where she was a nun, and where she was bleeding to death from flagellation and other mistreatment. The sequel also alleges that Kathryn Kuhlman was a secret agent of Rome and claims that Jim Jones, the leader of the Jonestown cult, was secretly a Jesuit.
Both magazines are saturated with anti-Catholic slurs and unsavory innuendo. The most astonishing charge is that the name of every Protestant is kept in a computer file in the Vatican, and that the Catholic church is preparing for a twentieth-century Inquisition.
The Catholic church is understandably upset. Its Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, based in Milwaukee, has asked the state attorney general’s office in California, where the magazines are published, to investigate Chick Publications for false advertising and consumer fraud. The attorney general’s office recently declined to do so.
Many Protestant bookstores carry small, comic-book-like Bible tracts published by Chick, as well as his earlier, full-size comics on Christian subjects. The Alberto magazine, however, has caused such a fuss that many bookstores have refused to sell it. To counteract that pressure. Chick published a special tract that he distributes free, in which he says Catholic propaganda teams pressure bookstore owners to remove Alberto, and that only a few “totally committed” gospel bookstores still dare to carry it.
A year ago, Alberto Rivera himself issued a sworn statement defending the allegations. He declared in part that, “Alberto is a true and actual account and I will face a court of law to prove the events actually took place.”
He may get his chance. This reporter’s investigation shows that not only was Rivera not a Jesuit priest, but also that he had two children during the time he claimed to be living a celibate life as a Jesuit. Neither, it seems, does he have a sister in England who was a nun. Rivera has been sought by police for writing bad checks in Hoboken, New Jersey, and for stealing a credit card in Florida. Those revelations taint the credibility of the fantastic stories Rivera tells in the comic books.
Alberto Rivera, also known as Alberto Romero, is a native of the Canary Islands. He has traveled widely and has been associated with numerous Christian organizations and churches, including several in California. He is being sued in a Los Angeles court at the present time by a man who said that Rivera, on behalf of the Hispanic Baptist Church which he started, borrowed $2,025 with which to invest in property, but never purchased the land. When the man asked for his money back, he received a receipt acknowledging his “contribution” of $2,025.
Just Who Is Jack Chick?
The small, comic-book-style Bible tracts published by Chick Publications are sold by the thousands in bookstores around the country, as are Chick’s larger, full-color comics that deal with decidedly unfunny topics. Among the subjects he targets are the occult, the theory of evolution, modern translations of the Bible, and all branches of Christianity except fundamentalism.
Jack Chick himself remains something of an enigma because he talks little with reporters. One reporter was able to reach him by telephone about the Alberto controversy: he stated he had never met a more godly man than Alberto Rivera. He said he knows Rivera’s story is true because he “prayed about it.” He also said he expects his own life to be ended by assassins.
His secretary recently discussed him briefly with a Los Angeles Times reporter. She described him as “mid-50ish” and a Baptist, and she said that Chick Publications is run for profit. According to the Times, he is a former illustrator for an aircraft company, and started drawing Bible illustrations years ago on his kitchen table.
The secretary said: “We have no ministers on our staff at all. We do have two who are research consultants.… He [Chick] is strictly an artist and publisher. He’s never been to a seminary or had Bible training, but he wanted to be a missionary years ago.” An official statement says that Jack Chick “experienced rebirth through Jesus Christ at age 24” and he developed “the ministry of Chick Publications as time passed.”
The Catholic church denies Rivera’s most important claim, that he was a priest. To substantiate the claim, the Alberto comic book carries a picture of an official-looking document from the Archbishopric of Madrid-Alcala in Spain, dated September 1967. It identifies Rivera as a priest and gives him permission to travel abroad in his ministry’. There is no other church documentation, such as an ordination certificate, shown in the book. An individual in California, who grew suspicious of Rivera in 1973, wrote to the archdiocese office in Madrid-Alcala to ask if Rivera were really a priest. The response was that no diocese in Spain had any record of Rivera as a priest. The archbishop’s office concluded that he was not a priest, and that the travel document, which was little more than a form letter, was “acquired by deceit and subterfuge” to enable Rivera to get a passport.
The sequel. Double Cross, devotes its first nine pages to a description of how Alberto flew to London and contacted an Anabaptist church, whose people helped him rescue his dying sister Maria from her convent. Actually, the person he contacted was not an Anabaptist, but Delmar Spurling of the Church of God of Prophecy. Spurling said in an interview that Rivera did not rescue his sister, because she wasn’t a nun but rather a maid working in a private London home.
Rivera claims to have numerous degrees, including a master’s in psychology and at least three doctorates, but he has provided documentation for none of them. He attended a seminary, the Seminario Biblico Latinoamericano in Costa Rica, with an acquaintance from his home town of Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, but he did not graduate from the seminary.
The acquaintance, Plutarco Bonilla, a respected Christian leader in Latin America, said Rivera never finished high school and that he was in the seminary’s program for non-high school graduates. A letter from the school said he was expelled for “continual lying and defiance of seminary authority.” The known chronology of his life does not allow time for him to have achieved the academic status he claims. Kenneth Wishart, a California minister, once pressed Rivera about his degrees: Rivera said they came from a diploma mill in Colorado, but the place was not identified. Roland Rasmussen of the Faith Baptist Church in Canoga Park, California, also asked Rivera to substantiate some of his claims by submitting to a lie detector test. Rivera agreed; three times appointments were made for him, but all three times he failed to appear.
Although Rivera claims to have been raised and trained in a Spanish Jesuit seminary, his home town friend. Bonilla, said Rivera was living at one point with a woman in Costa Rica named Carmen Lydia Torres. (Alberto says Rivera was sent to Costa Rica to destroy a seminary and that a woman named Carmen was with him, posing as his girlfriend. The seminary was not named.)
Rivera later stated on an employment form that he and Torres were married in 1963. Their son, Juan, was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1964, while Rivera was working for the Christian Reformed Church there. Juan died in El Paso in July 1965, after his parents had fled New Jersey leaving numerous debts and a warrant for their arrest on bad check charges. The couple had two other children, Alberto and Luis Marx. The first two children were born during the time Alberto claimed to be a Jesuit priest in Spain.
In October 1967, Rivera went to work at the Church of God of Prophecy headquarters in Tennessee, and began collecting money for a college in Tarassa, Spain. When the Church of God of Prophecy wrote the college to ask if Rivera was authorized to receive donations for the college, it received a reply stating the college had given him a letter to collect funds only during the month of July. The college later discovered that while “he claimed to be a Catholic priest … he had never been one.” The college reported that he left debts he had acquired in the name of the parish of San Lorenzo, and that Spanish police were seeking him for “authentic swindles and cheats.” Finally, they said that no funds had ever reached the college from Rivera. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, Charles Hawkins of the Church of God of Prophecy said Rivera’s bank had contacted them because he had written a check on a closed account.
A Put-up-or-shut-up Call
Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic national newspaper, is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone who can prove that certain specified charges made in Alberto are true. The editor of the paper, Richard McMunn, said Chick has dredged up anti-Catholic lies that have been around a long time.
“Significantly,” said McMunn, “his [Chick’s] market is not limited to America’s so-called Bible Belt, but from coast to coast people in all walks of life are flocking to Christian bookstores … to buy these pieces of trash. Even more amazing is the fact that many are indeed believing what they read.
… The sad thing is that Chick’s lies are so hard to refute. They are so huge and monstrous that Catholics can only respond that the charges are purely and simply false.”
In 1969, two arrest warrants were issued for him in Florida. One was for the theft of a BankAmericard: the criminal division of the Bank of America reports that he charged over two thousand dollars on the credit card. The second warrant was issued for unauthorized use of an automobile. Rivera abandoned the vehicle in Seattle, and went from there to southern California, where he started a number of organizations: the Agapesofia Oikoumene (described as a “liberation” center for priests, nuns. Jews, and Communists), the Catholic Apostolic Church, the Hispanic Baptist Church of Oxnard, and an organization called the Antichrist Information Center.
In the comic book, Alberto, Rivera said he finally came to the point where he no longer could do the work for which he had been trained by the Jesuits, and he publicly turned against the Catholic church. He was taken by church officials to a sanitarium in Barcelona used for “insane priests,” was put in a padded cell for days without food or water, and was given shock treatments. At that point, according to the comic book, he turned to Christ and became a genuine Christian. He was suddenly released from the sanitarium and left the Catholic church.
But his later accounts of his conversion are contradictory. While speaking at the Faith Baptist Church in Canoga Park, California, Rivera pinpointed his conversion as March 20, 1967, after three months in the sanitarium, and said he immediately defected from the Catholic church. Five months later, however, he gave a newspaper interview in his home town of Las Palmas, in which he was still promoting Catholicism. He said in the interview that he was doing ecumenical work for the Catholic church in Tarrassa, Spain, during the previous six months, from February to August of 1967. According to Alberto, he was in the sanitarium during that time.
Rivera, who now lives in California, was asked for an interview to discuss the discrepancies in his tale, but he posed so many restrictions before he would agree, that a legitimate interview was not possible. He did say that any wrongdoings prior to his conversion to Christ in 1967 were done under the orders of the Catholic church, and that any wrongdoings since his conversion are fabrications by conspirators.
The Presbyterian Permanent Judicial Commission
Kaseman’S Beliefs Ruled ‘Within Acceptable Range’
The Presbyterian Permanent Judicial Commission has decided Mansfield Kaseman’s understanding of Christ’s uniqueness adequately complies with the doctrinal guidelines of its denomination, the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Kaseman’s assertion that Jesus is not God. “God is God.” first stirred controversy in 1979.
It was then that Kaseman, already ordained in the United Church of Christ, applied to the United Presbyterian Church so he could copastor the Rockville, Maryland. United Church, a body associated with both the United Church of Christ and the United Presbyterian Church.
During the consideration of Kaseman’s application he was asked about the deity of Christ. Although he equivocated on the doctrine, the presbytery accepted Kaseman’s application. Conservatives filed a protest, which was heard at the judicial commission of the area synod.
The synod commission sent the case back to the presbytery for reexamination. The second examination was in March 1980, where, according to Time magazine. Kaseman said he affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity but was uncomfortable with creedal formulas. “Forme, the God worth knowing is found more in the quest for liberation than in the pursuit of orthodoxy,” he said. Kaseman also expressed doubts about the bodily resurrection of Christ, saying. “I believe in the resurrection without necessarily believing in the bodily resurrection.”
The presbytery approved Kaseman a second time by a three-to-one margin—similar to the vote on its first decision. Again there was an appeal, and in February the question went to the Permanent Judicial Commission.
The main force of the permanent commission’s decision was to buttress the authority of local presbyteries in accepting or rejecting pastoral candidates. In its written opinion it reaffirmed the “principle that we are not to substitute our own judgment” for that of the presbytery, “which is best able to judge.” The permanent commission concluded its responsibility was merely to determine if Kaseman’s statements were “within the acceptable range of interpretation” of the denominational confessions.
Before 1967, pastoral candidates were required to “receive and adopt” the Westminster Confession of 1647. After that date, however, they had only had to agree to be “instructed” and “continually guided” by the confessions of the denomination.
The permanent commission believed the presbytery hearing Kaseman was correct in deciding the minister’s beliefs were within the “acceptable range of interpretation.” It accepted the presbytery’s judgment that Kaseman affirmed the doctrines in question and that apparent differences in his answers were not denials of the doctrines.
The permanent commission also restated the United Presbyterian Church’s belief in both the “full deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ.” That may not appease conservatives in the embattled denomination. It has been rocked in recent years by the requirement that women be elected to local church offices and be eligible for ordination: at least 40 churches left the denomination in 1980, including the prestigious Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. Conservatives are already promising to push for orthodoxy at the denomination’s national assembly in May, and the convention will undoubtedly be tense and crucial to the denomination’s future.
High School-age Evangelism
Youth Workers Create A Coordinating Body
More than 25 youth pastors from 11 states and representatives of parachurch youth ministries have formed a new association to coordinate evangelistic efforts among high schools. Organizers come from Baptist. Assemblies of God. Church of God, and independent churches, and from Shepherd Productions. Church Youth Development, Campus Crusade for Christ, Reach Out Ministries, and Moody Bible Institute.
“The National Network of Youth Ministries is the first of its kind,” explained Lamar Slay, director of training for Reach Out Ministries, Atlanta, and national coordinator of the new body.
The network wants to have local churches or parachurch groups accept responsibility for specific schools. This plan grew out of “The Forum,” comprised of youth workers and pastors who have been gathering annually since 1978 to discuss high school outreach strategies.
In addition to the national leaders, six regional coordinators will be named. The regions have been determined according to the areas where there are high concentrations of high school students.
Philadelphia UPCUSA Dropout
Tenth Presbyterian Picks New Denomination To Join
Tenth Presbyerian Church in Philadelphia, formerly a leading evangelical congregation in the United Presbyterian Church (UPCUSA), has joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Evangelical Synod (RPC).
It was like “being delivered from Egypt.” said Tenth’s pastor. James M. Boice, speaker on the radio “Bible Study Hour.” to an RPC official.
The Reformed Presbyterian Church. Evangelical Synod, is a conservative Presbyterian wing, formed in 1965 through the merger of two bodies, formerly known as the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (General Synod) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The synod has 20.615 members in 164 congregations. It operates Covenant College in Chattanooga. Tennessee, and Covenant Theological Seminary in Saint Louis.
The congregation bolted the UPCUSA last spring over what it considers unbiblical mandates on church government and denominational ownership of local church property. Several other evangelical UPCUSA churches, some in the Philadelphia area, followed Tenth’s lead.
After months of deliberation. Tenth’s officers and congregation voted overwhelmingly in December to join the RPC. It is a small denomination nationally, but has several churches in Philadelphia. RPC views on doctrine and government were compatible with Tenth’s, except for the denominational ban on deaconesses. But RPC officials allowed the church’s current deaconesses to serve out theirterms, and Tenth officers said the church, while accepting the ban, will work to get it changed.
Hundreds of attendees—many coming to hear guest speaker Francis Schaeffer, also an RPC minister—crowded into every nook and corner of the church building on January 25, the day Tenth’s congregation and pastor were officially inducted into the RPC.
Schaeffer, founder of L’Abri Fellowship and an outspoken supporter of biblical infallibility, praised Tenth’s “courageous example” in choosing to adhere to biblical requirements rather than remain in UPCUSA. Christians must always defend the “purity of the visible church, not only in abstract, but also in practice, (being] orthodox in doctrine and community,” he said.
That standard requires withdrawal when a denomination fails to adhere to biblical absolutes, he said. But such an exodus is a last resort “when all else fails.”
Tenth’s problems with UPCUSA aren’t over. Last year the Philadelphia presbytery brought suit against the church, challenging its right to withdraw, claiming its property and names, and seeking to obtain the church’s membership lists. Briefs and counterbriefs have been filed with the courts and the case is not expected to come to trial for several months.
Missouri Lutherans Clash Over Doctrinal Fine Point
Does Walter Maier, third vice-president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, believe what good Lutherans are supposed to believe? It’s getting hard to keep track.
Last October, synod president J. A. O. Preus sent a letter to each of the 6,000 congregations in the 2.7-million-member body expressing doubts that Maier had a legitimately Lutheran view of one of its central doctrines, objective justification. Early in January, Preus, and the four other vice-presidents of the synod, decided he did not. In late January, the board of control at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. Indiana, where Maier teaches, seemed to have reached an agreement with him, and Maier withdrew a study paper that caused the problem.
Now, however, the board has asked Maier to stop teaching his course in Romans—his specialty, and one that he has been teaching three or four times a year since 1965. Maier has agreed, and as of next fall, he will no longer teach the course.
In announcing the decision to remove Maier from his Romans course (his other teaching duties will continue), Robert Preus, the president of the seminary and brother of J. A. O. Preus, said, “We regret that uninformed armchair quarterbacks, pastors and laymen, have made an internal matter so public that we are compelled to make this statement.”
That was seen by all concerned as a slap at his brother about Maier. The doubts first came to light in 1976, according to J. A. O. Preus, who said he’s been trying ever since to get the seminary to resolve the matter. He said he decided to take it to the church because Maier is being talked about as a candidate to replace him when he resigns from the synodal presidency later this year.
According to Lutheran doctrine, objective justification teaches that apart from and prior to a sinner’s coming to faith in Christ, Ciod declared the world righteous because of Christ’s work on the cross. The doctrine is based on Romans 4:25; Romans 5, and 2 Corinthians 5:19. According to J. A. O. Preus. “Maier interprets Corinthians to say that God through Christ made it possible for man to be converted and thus reconciled to God. We say no, the reconciliation takes place in God, and not just in some men who come to faith.”
Preus continued: “He has rejected all three passages as teaching the doctrine of objective justification. Then he says. I do believe in the doctrine. Then we say, how can you reject the passages and accept the doctrine? He says he can accept it in the sense that Christ has redeemed the whole world, but that isn’t what the term means. It means God objectively declared the whole world righteous. It’s a forensic, declarative act. This he rejects, so we go round and round and round on it.”
Maier believes that it is possible to agree on a doctrine while differing on the interpretation of passages, and he has noted in past statements that a paper he wrote, which contributed to most of the fuss, was withdrawn by him from discussion, although he has not retracted the exegesis that went into the research. The paper was meant for discussion among the seminary faculty only, and was not to be released for general church use. Maier was not willing to be quoted directly, since he is in the middle of the dispute. Robert Preus, the seminary president, is on sabbatical leave and could not be reached. Maier is still in good standing as a professor at the seminary, and he strongly reiterates his belief in the doctrine of objective justification.
J. A. O. Preus takes a back seat to no one on the issue of doctrinal integrity. He was elected synod president in 1969 and set about ridding the body of liberal influences (Maier is not a liberal), most notably those at Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis, including its president, John H. Tietjen. Dissenters in the synod eventually formed a new wing of the church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.
The Way Founder Wierwille Announces Plan To Retire
Victor Paul Wierwille, founder and president of The Way International, has announced that he will retire on the fortieth anniversary of the movement, October 3, 1982. The former Evangelical and Reformed (now United Church of Christ) minister explained that he wants to be free to spend more time “traveling and teaching across the U.S. and abroad.”
Craig Martindale, 32, director of The Way Corps (a four-year training program involving 500 students at The Way College of Emporia, and additional groups of young people at facilities ir Indiana, Colorado, and New Mexico) has been named his successor. Wierwille’s son Donald, academic dean and vice-president for administration of the Kansas institution (although he resides at The Way headquarters near New Knoxville, Ohio), will continue as vice-president.
The younger Wierwille received an earned Doctor of Education degree from the University of Kansas last spring. Martindale, the president-elect, is a native of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and a graduate of the University of Kansas, where he excelled in football and academics and served as president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Baptist Student Union.
Observers believe that de facto leadership will remain in the hands of Wierwille, who has been named president emeritus and will serve the organization’s three-man board of trustees (which includes son Donald and Howard R. Allen, secretary-treasurer) in an advisory capacity.
Wierwille is the author of nine theological works, the most controversial of which is Jesus Christ Is Not God (1975). Just off the press is a ponderous (529 pages) volume, Jesus Christ Our Passover. His $100 Power for Abundant Living course enrolls hundreds of young people monthly. Questions are not permitted until completion of the 33-hour series of videotaped lectures by Wierwille, giving rise to charges of brainwashing by parents who complain that their children, since converting to The Way, have evidenced radical personality changes.
Because there is no formal membership in The Way, officials decline comment on the movement’s numerical strength, estimated at between 40,000 and 100,000. Press secretary Lonnell E. Johnson reported that 16,000 turned out for the Rock of Ages festival in New Knoxville last August, doubling 1975 attendance. “Twig Fellowships” (house churches) are scattered through all 50 states and 40 foreign countries, and 2,000 Word Over the World Ambassadors (missionary volunteers) are commissioned annually to take the Wierwille gospel to the ends of the earth. The Way’s rock group, Takit, has been concertizing across the nation, performing for high school assemblies and provoking angry protests and cancellations in some localities.
Adverse publicity also has been generated by the sect’s distribution of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century and The Myth of the Six Million. These books allege that the genocide of Jews by Hitler is apocryphal, and they evoke charges of anti-Semitism—vigorously denied by Wierwille. Further, alarm has been triggered by reports that disciples of The Way are being trained in the use of firearms and encouraged to bring guns to summer camps and conferences.
In addition to denial of the deity of Christ, and thus the Trinity. The Way deviations include rejection of the personality of the Holy Spirit, disbelief in the soul, insistence on tongues speaking, relegation of the Gospels to the Old Testament, and emphasis on the Epistles as the basis for faith and practice. In a December letter to followers. Wierwille decried “Christ-mass.” urging the word be stricken from their vocabulary. Instead, he said, “let’s wish one another a ‘Happy Household Holiday’.”
JOSEPH M. HOPKINS
Koop For Surgeon General, Billings In At Education
C. Everett Koop, a devout and active evangelical, has been appointed deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and is expected to become surgeon general after passage of a bill lifting a technical ban against anyone aged over 64 years, 29 days, from holding the post.
The Philadelphia surgeon, known to his friends as “Chick,” has been considered for months (CT, Jan. 2, 1981, p. 54) by the Reagan administration as a top choice for the post. Weeks before the November election, Reagan staff members called Koop several times to ask if the surgeon, a conservative Republican, would accept the post if it were offered. “I told them I was available,” he said.
Besides Koop, Robert Billings, executive director of the Moral Majority, apparently will be named assistant secretary of education for nonpublic education, a tremendous victory for the religious right wing. Billings is a militant proponent of church school education, at a time when church schools in Mississippi are being pressed by the Internal Revenue Service to prove they are not racially discriminatory. Billings can be expected to fight on the inside against that kind of interference. His appointment is an apparent attempt to appease conservative groups who have been unhappy with many of Reagan’s top-level appointees so far. He is the founder of the National Christian Action Coalition, which concentrated on fighting the IRS on behalf of Christian schools.
Koop holds a number of honors for his medical contributions, including the French Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian award, presented in 1980. Under his direction. Children’s Hospital attained international prominence for its advanced surgical techniques, and until 1977 he was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Pediatric Surgery. Yet by his own admission, he is “not the most popular physician in America.” The reason is his strong prolife stand. In 1979, he and evangelical philosopher Francis Schaeffer toured American cities with a film-lecture seminar entitled “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” which discussed the moral, ethical, and biomedical issues involved with abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, and related subjects.
Announcement of Koop’s appointment brought criticism and opposition from some proabortion groups and supporters. Critics claimed he would use his post to espouse prolife views. But at a press conference, Koop noted that his views on abortion are no different from those of President Reagan or HHS Secretary Schweiker. To avoid any conflict of interest, though, he has resigned from all prolife groups of which he was a member.
Though known and respected within the international medical community, Koop achieved public acclaim in 1974 when, in a historic 10-hour operation at Children’s Hospital, he and his 23-member surgical team successfully separated Siamese twins born to a poor Dominican Republic couple. In 1975, he and his team again made headlines, when they successfully rebuilt the rib cage of a baby born with its heart outside its body.
He had planned to retire this June, after 40 years in medicine, but “I’ve found in every major transition in my life that my plans weren’t the Lord’s plans. Something would happen out of the blue, like this, to change them.”
He doesn’t regret it, though. “I wasn’t looking forward to retirement,” he said with a smile. “This may work me to death, but I’ll enjoy doing it.”
WILLIAM G. SHUSTER
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